Burgettstown officer sues over camera in changing room

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A video camera concealed in a police department vent to capture sexual liaisons may have instead filmed a female officer changing into and out of uniform, a federal lawsuit against Burgettstown Borough alleges.

When Officer Amber Price tried to find out why the camera was hidden in the Burgettstown Municipal Building room where she routinely changed, her inquiries spurred criminal charges against her, she claimed in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court late Friday. Although the charges were eventually dropped, her law enforcement career was ruined, she claims.

Seeking compensation, she has sued Burgettstown, Washington County, its District Attorney Steven Toprani and a host of chiefs, detectives and troopers from the local, county and state level who she claims were involved in actions against her.

Ms. Price, of Oakdale, was charged in 2009 with false swearing, official oppression and conspiracy when investigators found an inaccuracy in a March 2008 affidavit she signed in a drug case. In her federal complaint, she explained that away as an honest mistake, and implied it was blown out of proportion to punish her.

Her troubles began after her November 2008 discovery of the camera hidden in a ceiling vent. She came to believe that the camera was placed there "to capture video of an officer with [Burgettstown] having sex with a female acquaintance," possibly "for what might be considered 'blackmail,' " the complaint said.

Because the camera was in a space she used in lieu of a women's locker room, she reported it to the state attorney general's office and to Washington County police.

Not long after that, state police came to question her about the affidavit. What followed, as the complaint chronicles it, was a series of interrogations leading to criminal charges filed by the district attorney.

Mr. Toprani at the time was engaged in probes of several officers at Burgettstown and neighboring Smith Township, where Ms. Price also worked.

Ms. Price's complaint said the actions against her amounted to violations of due process and equal protection, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment during the interrogations and abuse of process. The absence of proper facilities at the Burgettstown Municipal Building is a form of gender discrimination, according to the complaint.

Burgettstown disbanded its police force earlier this year. Borough officials could not be reached for comment. Mr. Toprani's office declined comment, as did the state police. Neither Ms. Price, nor her attorneys, could be reached for comment.

Ms. Price's age and current employment were not indicated in the complaint.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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